The Leonard line, as it runs through Michael, has ancestors who fought in every conflict since Europeans arrived on this continent. From King Philip’s war through World War 2, his ancestors have served, but thankfully none in his direct line have lost their lives in combat. Today, for Memorial Day, we remember one of his extended family members who gave the ultimate sacrifice: Eugene H Place.
Eugene was Michael’s 4x Great Uncle and he lost his life in the Civil War. He was the grandson of one of the first Americans to settle in the Wisconsin territory, and coming from a family that was staunchly committed to Abolition. In-fact, the farmers of Eastern Racine County were notoriously anti-slavery. Eugene’s parents, Thomas and Susan Place, owned a large farm in Mount Pleasant, WI in the neighborhood of the unknown safe house that Joshua Glover was smuggled to after he was freed from the Milwaukee jail. His older brother Luther enlisted as a regular in the Union army when he was 19 years old. Eugene, at 16, was the oldest son left to help on the farm. Many of the boys Luther’s age enlisted the day the war broke out, and Eugene’s younger sister would marry one of those men when he returned from service.
“100 Days Men”
Thomas and Susan had 4 sons. Luther was born in 1844, Eugene in 1846, Thomas Jr. in 1847, and Theron in 1853. Thomas was lost as an infant. By the Spring of 1864, when Eugene turned 18 years old, the Union campaign in Georgia was gaining momentum. The Governor of Ohio proposed a surge of lightly trained soldiers to replace seasoned troops who were doing rear-guard duty. The concept of a short-term enlistment for these rear guard troops was immediately adopted by President Lincoln. The 80,000 soldiers who joined were known as “100 Days Men” and Eugene enlisted 3 months after this 18th birthday (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundred_Days_Men). The Place family’s two oldest sons were now serving in the Union Army.
The Wisconsin 39th Regimen mustered into service on 3 Jul 1864, and he was assigned to Company D. The 3 Wisconsin 100 Days regimens were sent to Memphis after a week of training. They performed guard and picket duty while the veteran troops they replaced shifted to the battle for Atlanta.
On 21 Aug 1864 the Wisconsin 39th was the only of the 100 Days forces from Wisconsin to see combat. Confederate Calvary under Nathan Bedford Forrest attempted a raid in Memphis to capture Union commanders, but they were ultimately rebuffed. During the time of the raid, Eugene was likely already in hospital in Memphis suffering through his last days of the disease that would take his life. He died on 23 Aug 1864 at the age of 18. His body was returned to Racine where it was buried in a family plot in Mound Cemetery.
Thomas Place arrived in Wisconsin Territory at age 16, before the Native Americans had been pushed off this land. The first winter Thomas worked for the French fur trader in the area. He became acquainted enough with the local Potowatomi band that he was invited in the winter of 1835 to a mound-building performed for the death of a tribal leader. Those ceremonies were held in an area of Racine that was dotted with burial mounds. Now almost 30 years later, that land had become the cemetery Thomas buried his middle son.
The impact of the 100 Days Men like Eugene was just what the Union had hoped for. By the time they mustered out in September of 1864 Atlanta had fallen. Sherman was resting and preparing for his glorious March to the Sea while the regulars re-positioned to their original posts. 3 men of the 39th died in combat, while nearly 10 times that many would fall to disease. In November President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address memorializing the men like Eugene who died for this country. By April 1865 the war ended.
Eternal Sacrifice, and Gratitude
Michael’s maternal line was just starting to taste their first freedom in this country. That was in no small part due to the sacrifices of men like Eugene H. Place. The Place family’s commitment to the ideals that people like Michael should be treated like human beings gave his later ancestors some of the rights the Place’s themselves held dear. The could now own property, vote, and to serve this country.
Without the sacrifices of men like Eugene, generations of people like Michael with African ancestry would likely still be enslaved in the brutal system the Southern States fought so traitorously to preserve. On this Memorial Day, it’s with profound thanks for the wonderful life we all enjoy today that we thank Private Place, and the countless others like him, for their service, their commitment, and their sacrifice.